THE ESSENES by Matt Kelly

No ancient group can elicit our curiosity today as can the Essenes. How powerful their influence on the Judeo-Christian contributions to Western history is the subject of much discussion. Many issues are intertwined with Essene history, including whether Jesus was a vegetarian. There are Essenes alive and well today, and may still have much to offer.

Early Essenes

About 2,000 years ago, much of the Middle East, including Egypt, was inhabited by the Jews. Then, as now, there were many sects in Judaism. One major sect was the peace-loving, vegetarian Essenes. The contemporary historian, Josephus, describing characteristics of the Essenes notes:”…they are Jews by birth and are particularly attached to each other. They eschew pleasure-seeking as a vice and regard temperance and mastery of the passions a virtue…They possess no one city, but everywhere have large colonies.”

In his description, Josephus portrays the Essenes as charitable, devout, totally honest, and trustworthy. They based their decisions on majority consent, pooled their wealth and possessions together, made no wars, were peace-loving, were frugal, were healthier than most others, and lived to a very old age, often over 100 years. Josephus is purported to have been influenced by some of these attributes in his early years.

Evidently, there was then, as there is now, an ongoing debate about the relationship of mankind with the rest of creation, including that with non-human animals. One line of thought looked upon all creation as sacred, and abhorred the use or harm of any animal. Many ancient Greek philosophers, notably Pythagoras, preached vegetarianism and respect for all life, and had a big impact on the thoughts of the ancient world. This same line of thinking was also commonplace in the ancient Jewish world. I’m sure there are many connections. There are examples of this reverence expressed in the books of Daniel, Micah, Hosea, Ecclesiastes, and especially Isaiah. 

The Essenes could have certainly been influenced by religions from the East, like Jainism or Buddhism. It is known that the Essenes, with their pacifist tendencies, ate no animal flesh. It is believed by some biblical scholars that the Essenes and the early Christians were one in the same people. Much evidence exists to indicate that Jesus was born into the Essene world and was its most famous member.

Was Jesus Vegetarian? The Essene Gospel of Peace

In 1937, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Ph.D., professor, traveler and philologist (among many other things) translated a collection of secret ancient Aramaic manuscripts which he discovered in the secret vaults of the Vatican and in the Royal Archives of the Hapsburgs (now in possession by the Austrian Government). The “Essene Gospel Of Peace,” which this collection is called was said to have been written in the 3rd century BCE. 

Book One of the Gospel of Peace puts quite an interesting view to our traditional outlook on Christian teachings. Here, there exists a different trinity; The Heavenly Father (to whom we commend our soul/spirit), The Earthly Mother (of whom we are from, and who nurtures our physical bodies) and the Son Of Man, the Master (who has come down to Earth to show us the way). The Master teaches us to embrace the Angels of Air, Water and Sunlight for our bodily health.

The Master (Jesus) teaches us to pray to the Heavenly Father in the familiar Christian prayer we know as the “Our Father,” and also teaches us to pray to the Earthly Mother (nature), sustainer of all life with a parallel prayer, the “Our Mother.”

In this text, which is noticeably absent from our modern bible, Jesus spells out a lifestyle which resembles that which today we call “Natural Hygiene,” including a raw foods diet, water fasting, clearly a vegetarian diet, and an admonition to do no harm to other forms of life. We can see some of the same lifestyle today with the Seventh Day Adventists

The Master emphasizes that cooking “takes the life” out of foods. The plant kingdom abounds with live healing and restorative powers, which we should take use of for optimal health. The body, created by our Earthly Mother, houses the spirit which is destined for our Heavenly Father. Therefore, we need take the utmost care of this holy and sacred vessel, our body.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, the position that Jesus was a vegetarian Essene has been even more solidified. Some of the scrolls contain Essene traditional parables and phrases, which pre-dated Jesus by a hundred years, yet read almost verbatim the lines and verses attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. This is thought to show that Jesus was trained in standard Essene philosophy, and these New Testament verses reflect standard Essene teachings.

Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls still remain locked away from our eyes by religious authorities. Both contemporary Christian and Jewish scholars, in conjunction with modern religious authorities, feel that the general population “is not competent enough to interpret” what is in the scrolls. I wonder if these contemporary writings are too challenging to the modern religious dogma, with which most people are familiar?

Modern Essenes

There still is a modern Essene movement in motion. “They possess no one city, but everywhere have large colonies.” Modern Essene thought still holds fast to a Natural Hygiene lifestyle, replete with a vegan raw foods diet and regular fasting. With the ability to combat cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and a whole range of common but serious ailments, the raw food diet is one we are hearing more and more about. Maybe this has something to do with Jesus’ reputation as a great healer. There are more and more vegetarians experimenting with raw foods, and getting great results!


Yeshua and the early Christians- Was Christ Vegetarian?

The following arguments are to be found, for the most part, in Keith Akers’ very useful, A Vegetarian Sourcebook, 1989. Another sourcebook I would also highly recommend for its scholarship is Lewis Regenstein’s Replenish the Earth: The History of Organized Religion’s Treatment of Animals and Nature–Including the Bible’s Message of Conservation and Kindness Toward Animals, 1991. 

“I require mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7)

This is a significant message when we remember that in the context in which this was said meat eating was commonly considered part of these sacrifices. Sacrificial offerings often entailed meat consumption and a strict reading of Leviticus 17: implies that, indeed, all meat consumption necessitated a sacrifice. Also, the noted confrontation of Jesus in the Temple suggests that he was not at all pleased by the desecration of the Temple by the money changers AND by “those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons” (John 2:14-15) since these animals were being sold for sacrifice before being eaten. 

No Unequivocal Biblical Reference to Christ Eating or Buying Meat

Consider the verse where it is said that Jesus’ disciples “were gone away unto the city to buy meat” (John 4:8). This translation from the King James version has been misunderstood as meaning literally “meat”. In fact, the Greek word for “meat” from which the James translation based its choice for this word, simply meant nutrition in the generic sense. Hence, the Revised Standard Version now simply translates this same passage as “his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food”. 

Regenstein notes that nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus depicted as eating meat and “if the Last Supper was a Passover meal — as many believe — there is, interestingly, no mention of the traditional lamb dish”. 

Did Christ at Least Eat Fish? (e.g., Luke 24:43)

Note that on the two occasions where he is said to have eaten fish, these were after his death and resurrection. Also, we should maybe keep in mind that fish was a well known mystical symbol among these early Christians. The Greek word for fish (Ichthys) was used as an acronym whose initials in Greek stood for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”. Given how the early Christians employed the term, there is therefore good historical evidence for the argument that all of the “fish stories” that managed to get into the gospels were intended to be taken symbolically rather than literally. 

Biblical Breaks and Contradictions

We should not forget that the Bible is not complete and its many inconsistencies require thoughtful interpretation. For instance, we have the contradiction between Genesis 1:29-30 with Genesis 9:2-3. Some scholars interpret the first prescription for vegetarianism as the preferred diet, and suggest that it was only after God became grievously disappointed with human sin and flooded the earth did the second provision become permitted, and not without qualification (and maybe only as an expedient for the situation). To take another example, the New Testament makes repeated attacks on meat offered to pagan idols (Acts 15:20; Revelation 2:14), but Paul gives assurances that eating such flesh is all right if no one is offended (Corinthians 10:14-33). Paul, then, would seem to be contradicting Christ. 

Examples of Early Christians

Not a few Christian scholars have concluded vegetarianism to be the more consistent ethic with respect to the spirit of Christ’s teachings. For example, we have the Ebionites, Athanasius, and Arius. Of the early church fathers we have Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Heronymus, Boniface, St. Jerome, and John Chrysostom. Clement wrote, “It is far better to be happy than to have your bodies act as graveyards for animals. Accordingly, the apostle Matthew partook of seeds, nuts and vegetables, without flesh”. One of the earliest Christian documents is the `Clementine Homiles’, a second-century work purportedly based on the teachings of St. Peter. Homily XII states, “The unnatural eating of flesh meats is as polluting as the heathen worship of devils, with its sacrifices and its impure feasts, through participation in it a man becomes a fellow eater with devils”. Many of the monasteriesboth in ancient times to the present practiced vegetarianism. For instance, Basilius the Great‘s order, Boniface’s order, Trappists monks, etc. Also, we have the examples provided by the stories around some saints like Hubertus, Aegidius and Francis of Assisi

Indirect Historical Evidence

Knowledge about how the Essenes, the Nazoreans and Ebionites lived suggests that Christ was probably a vegetarian. The Essenes were Jews who were remarkably similar to the early Christians as evinced in their deemphasis upon property and wealth, their communalism and in their rejection of animal sacrifices. The first Christians were known as the Nazoreans (not to be confused with Nazarenes), and the Ebionites were a direct offshoot from them. All three groups were vegetarian which is suggestive of the central role such a practice once played in Early Christianity. 

Paul’s need to constantly deal with these vegetarians is also evidence of how prevalent they were and not a few fellow Christians, it would seem, took issue with Paul. Paul, if he is consistent with his words, would have been vegetarian (Corinthians 8:13), notwithstanding his opposition to the Ebionites. According to Clement of Alexandria, Matthew was a vegetarian. Clementine `Homiles’ and `Recognitions’ claim that Peter was also a vegetarian. Both Hegisuppus and Augustin testify that the first head of the church in Jerusalem after the death of Christ, namely Christ’s brother James the Just, was a vegetarian and raised as one! If Jesus’s parents raised James as vegetarian then it would be likely that Jesus was also so raised. 


Given the above points, it is reasonable to believe that vegetarianism would be consistent with, if not mandated by, the spirit of early Christianity, a spirit that advocated kindness, mercy, non-violence and showed disdain towards wealth and extravagance. Meat eating would hardly have been considered the way of the humility, non-extravagance and love for all of God’s creation. Hence, the orthodox early church father, Christian Hieronymous, could not but be compelled to conclude: 

The eating of animal meat was unknown up to the big flood, but since the flood they have pushed the strings and stinking juices of animal meat into our mouths, just as they threw quails in front of the grumbling sensual people in the desert. Jesus Christ, who appeared when the time had been fulfilled, has again joined the end with the beginning, so that it is no longer allowed for us to eat animal meat. 

Postscript: What Happened After Christ?

Maybe an even more important question than that of whether or not Christ was a vegetarian, was why Christianity later abandoned its vegetarian roots. Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit, 1987, argues: 

The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless regime…many early Christian groups supported the meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the early Church indicate that meat eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat eating interpretation of the Bible became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down the their throats if they were captured. 

Ironic indeed that pagan Rome here would have this longstanding influence upon Christianity. 

In any case, I think we can all be thankful that it is a lot easier today to be a vegetarian. The occasional rudeness and social disapproval a vegetarian must tolerate is a pretty small inconvenience in comparison to Constantine’s way of dealing with vegetarians. 

To cite another sad example: in southern France a group of Albigensian vegetarians (a Cartharist religious group) were put to death by hanging in 1052 because they refused to kill a chicken!

Do you believe Jesus was a vegetarian?

There are a variety of books advancing the argument that Jesus was a vegetarian, as will be explained in a moment. However, whether Jesus was or wasn’t a vegetarian, Christians today should be. For more on this argument, please read the question that begins, “I believe the Bible is literally true…” and the one beginning “I understand that many Christians embrace veganism…” 

The basic argument for a vegetarian Christ: 
The Garden of Eden, God’s perfect world, was vegetarian (Gen. 1:29-30). Immediately, God calls this ideal and non-exploitative relationship “good” (Gen. 1:31). This is the one time when God makes such a statement. There follow many years of fallen humanity, when people held slaves, waged war, ate animals, and committed various other violent acts. Although there are passages in the Scriptures that endorse eating animals, war, slavery, polygamy, animal sacrifice, and other practices that most people find immoral, these passages are a representation of what existed as a part of fallen humanity, not of God’s ideal plan or vision. Despite the fall, the prophets tell us to expect a new age, a return to Eden, God’s peaceable kingdom, when even the lion will lie down with the lamb and there will be no bloodshed or violence at all, “for the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of God” (Isaiah 11). If Jesus is “the new Adam,” who returns us to the Garden of Eden, as Christians believe, and if he is “the Prince of Peace” described in Isaiah 11, who ushers in God’s new (and vegetarian) vision, as Christians also believe, it would be inconceivable for him to dine on animal carcasses. 

And in fact, the evidence is convincing that the historical Jesus was a vegetarian. There were many faith-based vegetarians Jews in Jesus’ time, for the same reason there remain so many today (visit for more on Judaism and vegetarianism). They understood that God’s ideal was the vegetarian Garden of Eden depicted in Genesis and the Peaceable Kingdom described by the Prophets. Three issues that distinguished the Jewish religious sects that advocated living the vegetarian ideal on Earth were: 1) baptism, in place of animal sacrifice, for forgiveness of sins; 2) opposition to selling animals for slaughter in the temple; 3) celebration of the Passover with unleavened bread, rather than lamb. 

In Jesus’ day, preaching baptism for forgiveness of sins in place of animal sacrifice placed one clearly among the vegetarian sects of Judaism who were attempting to usher in the new age of Isaiah 11. It would not have been lost on anyone in first century Palestine that John, who came to “prepare a way for the lord,” was baptizing people, not sacrificing animals. Isaiah 11, of course, declares that God’s will is for compassion, for an age when even the lion lies down with the lamb, and there is no bloodshed at all. 

For example, Luke explains that “the will of God” is Baptism for forgiveness of sins, “whereas the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, in not letting themselves be baptized, ignored this will of God.” Thus, John preached baptism for forgiveness of sins, Jesus was baptized, and the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles all clearly and consistently advocate baptism. For the Jews who were not vegetarians, animal sacrifice was the way to forgiveness (and of course, after the sacrifice, the animal was eaten), but for the vegetarian Jews, baptism was advocated. 

Complementing the new focus on baptism were opposition to the Temple, where the animals were sacrificed, and celebration of Passover without the lamb (slaughtered sacrificially in the Temple). In fact, Jesus rails against the Temple, and his single act of direct confrontation with the authorities is in the Temple, the slaughterhouse of first century Palestine, when he engages in direct action by casting out all those selling animals for sacrifice. We can debate his reasons, but the practical effect was a Jew preventing others Jews from engaging in the Passover slaughter they felt was called for by God. Clearly, Jesus rejects this notion, claiming twice that they should all learn the meaning of Hosea when he says, speaking for God, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” 

Additionally, there are no scriptures in which Jesus eats lamb, which he would surely have eaten at Passover, had he not been a vegetarian. Vegetarian Jews, as one significant aspect of their faith, celebrated a perfectly orthodox vegetarian Passover. We see Jesus eating on the Passover exactly twice, and neither time is lamb involved. John places the first multiplication miracle on the Passover, yet the disciples ask Jesus only, “Where will we buy enough bread to feed all these people?” giving not even a thought to lamb, which would have been eaten had they not been vegetarians opposed to animal sacrifice. The last supper was a Passover meal and was also, apparently, vegetarian. The nonvegetarians ate lamb at the Passover, but the vegetarians ate only unleavened bread as, it seems, did Jesus. 

One final point to make is that many Christians of the first three centuries, including all of the “Desert Fathers,” were vegetarians and that they continued, despite being Jewish, to celebrate the Passover with bread and wine, not lamb’s flesh. It would be strange indeed for the first Christians to have adopted a diet not followed by Jesus himself. 

The Fish Stories: 
In fact, the only Scriptures that depict Jesus eating or providing meat of any kind involve fish: Post-resurrection, Jesus is depicted as eating fish with the disciples; during his life, he is depicted multiplying loaves and fishes to feed the peasants who have gathered to hear him preach. For additional analysis of these stories, please read the answer to the questions that begin “Doesn’t Jesus eat fish…?” and “I believe that the Bible is literally true…” From the perspective of the scholars who argue that Jesus was a vegetarian, the above arguments warrant a reconsideration of the fish stories. 

Thinking about these stories in the light of all the evidence that Jesus was a vegetarian who took compassion for animals very seriously, it helps to remember that Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, the Gospels were written generations after the resurrection in Hebrew and Greek, and the earliest versions we have are Greek translations and transcriptions from the fourth century–more than 300 years, two translations, and many transcriptions post-resurrection. None of the four Gospel authors ever met Jesus. 

Most scholars agree that the post-resurrection stories of Jesus eating fish were added to the Gospels long after they were written, in order to settle various schisms in the early Church. (e.g., the Marcionites and other early Christians believed that Jesus did not actually return in the flesh. What better way to prove that he did than to depict him eating?) The scribes who added the stories were not, apparently, averse to eating fish. But since this is the only depiction anywhere in the Gospels of Jesus eating any animals at all, and in light of all the additional evidence, above, it seems clear that Jesus was. 

Although it would not contradict the technical definition of a vegetarian to multiply fishes who are already dead to feed people who eat aren’t opposed to eating fish (vegetarianism is based on compassion, not dogma), there are some interesting points to notice about this story. First, the disciples ask Jesus where they will get enough bread to feed the multitudes, never even thinking of buying fish or other animal products, and never suggesting a fishing expedition, despite being beside a sea. Also, evidence indicates that the story of the loaves and the fishes did not originally include fish. For example, the earliest (pre-Gospel) accounts of this miracle do not include fish, and Jesus, when he refers to it, refers only to the bread (e.g., Mt 16:9-10, Mk 8:19-20, Jn 6:26). 

Fish were added to the stories by Greek scribes, probably because the Greek word for fish, ixous, is an acronym for the phrase “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.” Indeed, the fish is still a symbol of Christianity today. In this very likely interpretation, the multiplication represents a prediction of the burgeoning Church, Jesus making his disciples ?fishers of men? as he promised, and has nothing to do with eating animals. 

Also, some scholars contend that the Greek word for “fishweed” (a dried seaweed) has been mistranslated in this story as “fish” (see Rosen, Scholarly Works). It is certainly true that dried fishweed would be more likely in a basket with bread, and fishweed remains a popular food among Jewish and Arab peasants like the people to whom Jesus was speaking. 

So what did Jesus definitely have to say about fishing? Jesus calls multiple fishermen away from their occupation of killing animals and pleads with them to show mercy to all beings, quoting Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In each instance, they immediately abandon their occupation of fishing to follow Jesus (e.g., Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 5). This resembles Jesus’ call to tax collectors, prostitutes, and others, who are engaged in activities that are not in line with his message of mercy and compassion. 

The evidence that Jesus was a vegetarian is strong, and the evidence that he would be one today is irrefutable. Quite simply, it is impossible to imagine Jesus paying people to treat God’s creatures like so many boxes in a warehouse, genetically manipulating and mutilating their bodies, pumping them full of hormones and antibiotics so they will live through the cramped and miserable conditions in which they’re kept, trucking them to slaughterhouses through all weather extremes with no food or water, and then hanging them upside down, slitting their throats, and hacking off their limbs, often while they are still conscious.

The Compassion of Vegetarianism, Yeshua and the Essenes. Yeshua was a vegetarian

Based on historical documents and the research of many Christian scholars, Jesus Christ and the early Christians were vegetarians. 

It is believed that Jesus was a member of the Nazarenes, an Essene group living near Mount Carmel in Israel. The Essenes were one of the main religious sects in first century Palestine. Members wore white and followed a vegetarian diet. 

According to the 4th century church historian, Epiphanius, and Jewish philosopher Philo, the Essenes were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but were nonviolent toward all living creatures and considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with animals. As a member of this group, Jesus would have to have been a vegetarian, as was His brother James (Jacob) and all His disciples. 

The main Essene scripture is the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, also known as the Gospel of the Nazarenes. This is the Gospel repeatedly mentioned, described and quoted by many commentators of the first century Church. However, this ancient scripture was hidden away for centuries in a Tibetan monastery and was rediscovered only in 1888. Many of the most revered early church fathers, as well as a surprising number of scholars today, have declared that the Gospel of the Holy Twelve is nothing less than the long-lost original Gospel. According to legend, this Gospel was collectively written by the 12 apostles immediately following Christ’s death, and it is the scripture upon which all of the Biblical synoptic Gospels are based.  It so happens that this version of the New Testament also portrays Jesus as a strict vegetarian. 

In the modern-day New Testament, there is a story about Jesus feeding bread and fish to 5,000 people (Mark 6:31-44). As seen in the following story from the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, the food involved was only bread and grapes; there is no fish. Jesus fed the 5,000 people with six loaves and seven clusters of grapes. 

(Gospel of the Holy Twelve, Lection XXIX, 1-8) 

1. And the Feast of the Passover drew near. The Apostles and their fellows gathered themselves together to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. And He said to them, “Come you yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. 

2. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew Him, and ran afoot away, out of all cities, and out went them, and came together to Him. 

3. And Jesus, when He came forth, saw many people and was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep having not a shepherd. 

4. And the day was far spent, and His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about into the villages, and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat.” 

5. He answered and said to them, “You give them to eat.” And they said to him, “ Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?” 

6. He said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they knew, they said, “Six loaves and seven clusters of grapes.” And He commanded them to make all sit down by companies of fifty upon the grass. And they sat down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties. 

7. And when He had taken the six loaves and the seven clusters of grapes, he looked up to Heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and the grapes also, and gave them to his disciples to set before them, and they divided them among them all. 

8. And they did all eat and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that were left. And they that did eat of the loaves and of the fruit were about 5,000 men, women and children, and He taught them many things. 

This evidence indicates that the story of feeding the mass did not originally include fish. 

There are countless passages in the Gospel of the Holy Twelve where Jesus teaches us to love animals and not eat meat. For example: 

And some of the people said, “This man cares for all creatures. Are they his brothers and sisters that he should love them?” And He said to them, “these are your fellow creatures of the great household of God. Yea, they are your brothers and sisters, having the same breath of life in the eternal. And whosoever cares for one of the least of these, and gives it to eat and drink in its need, does the same to me. And who so willingly suffers one of these to be in want, and defends it not when evilly entreated, does the evil to me. For as you have done in this life, so shall it be done to you in the life to come.” (Lection XXXIV, 9-10) 

And again that one asked, “If anyone comes to us who eats flesh and drinks strong drink, how shall we receive them?” And Jesus said to him, “Let such a person abide in the outer court until they cleanse themselves from these grosser evils; for till they perceive, and repent of these, they are not fit to receive the higher mysteries.” (Lection XCI, 8) 

“You shall not take away the life of any creature for your pleasure, nor for your profit, nor yet torment it.” (Lection XLVI, 10) 

“You shall not eat the flesh , nor drink the blood of any slaughtered creature, not yet anything which brings disorder to your health or senses.” (Lection XLVI, 12) 

“You shall cherish and protect the weak, and those who are oppressed, and all creatures that suffer wrong.” (Lection XLVI, 18) 

Another scripture, The Essene Gospel of Peace, was discovered in 1923 in the secret archives of the Vatican. The following are some sections of the words that Jesus shared with the Essenes taken from this scripture: 

‘Thou shalt not kill,’ for life is given to all by God, and that which God has given, let not man take away. For-I tell you truly, from one Mother proceeds all that lives upon the earth. Therefore, he who kills, kills his brother. And from him will the Earthly Mother turn away, and will pluck from him her quickening breasts. And he will be shunned by her angels, and Satan will have his dwelling in his body. And the flesh of slain beasts in his body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and whoso eats the flesh of slain beasts, eats of the body of death. For in his blood every drop of their blood turns to poison; in his breath their breath to stink; in his flesh their flesh to boils; in his bones their bones to chalk; in his bowels their bowels to decay; in his eyes their eyes to scales; in his ears their ears to waxy issue. And their death will become his death. (Book 1) 

Kill not, neither eat the flesh of your innocent prey, lest you become the slaves of Satan. For that is the path of sufferings, and it leads unto death. But do the will of God, that his angels may serve you on the way of life. Obey, therefore, the words of God: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is breath of life, I give every green herb for meat. (Book 1) 

But I do say to you: Kill neither men, nor beasts, nor yet the food which goes into your mouth. For if you eat living food, the same will quicken you, but if you kill your food, the dead food will kill you also. For life comes only from life, and from death comes always death. For everything which kills your foods, kills your bodies also. And everything which kills your bodies kills your souls also. And your bodies become what your foods are, even as your spirits, likewise, become what your thoughts are. (Book 1)

Why were some of Jesus’ teachings in the Essene scriptures excluded from or revised in the Bible? Why did Christianity later abandon its vegetarian roots? According to Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit, “The early Christian fathers adhered to a meatless regime…many early Christian groups supported the meatless way of life. In fact, the writings of the early Church indicate that meat eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat eating interpretation of the Bible therefore became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down their throats if they were captured.” 

Some groups that claim spiritual descent from the ancient Essenes and whose members currently describe themselves as Essenes believe that the 27 books we now call the New Testamentof the Bible and even some translations of books considered canonical were changed to censor certain beliefs such as transmigration, the feminine aspect of Divinity, and vegetarianism. These groups use the Nazarean Bible of the Essene Way, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadhi Library manuscripts and other recently discovered gospels as the basis for much of their beliefs. 

Although the Bible is not complete and its many inconsistencies about meat eating and vegetarianism require thoughtful interpretation, countless passages that refer to vegetarianism remain. The following are some examples from the King James version: 

Old Testament 

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. (Genesis 1:29-30) 

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. (Genesis 9:4) 

Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:13) 

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. (Proverbs: 15:17) 

Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh. (Proverbs 23:20) 

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats…And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil. (Isaiah 1:11, 15-16) 

New Testament 

Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. (1 Corinthians 6:13) 

(Jesus said,) I will have mercy, and not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13 & 12:7) 

(St. Paul, one of Jesus’ disciples, said in his letter to the Romans) It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (Romans 14:21) 

Many Christian scholars have concluded that vegetarianism is the ethic more consistent with the spirit of Christ’s teachings. Many Christian groups from the time of Christ have practiced vegetarianism, among them, the Seventh Day Adventist maybe being the most well known. 

Throughout history, many Christians have become aware of the cruel and un-Christ like behavior of the meat eating habit. Nowadays, an increasing number of Christians are becoming vegetarian as a more merciful and compassionate way to live. 


Early Christian Vegetarian Comunities

29 May 2012AuthorLindsay Johnson

During the time of early Christianity, different sects practiced different lifestyles. The Encratites were early Christian ascetics. The word Encratite is derived from the Greek word for self-control, which alongside love, joy and peace, is a fruit of the spirit. The latter part of the second century in Mesopotamia saw the rise of a Jewish- Christian, vegetarian Encratite community founded by Tatian, a pupil of Justin Martyr (born 100 AD). Tatian played an important role during the beginning of the early Church, and would have known the Apostle John or his followers.:

With the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE came the destruction of the Temple and the disappearance of priestly slaughterers. The community at Qumran, associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls, appears to have already disappeared. But documentation proves that there were others involved, as well: the Nazirites, Rechabites, Essenes, Therapeutae, and Zakokites. A central trait of some of these Jewish ascetic groups was abstinence from eating meat, celibacy, fasting, and other forms of privation, which also marked the ascetic regimen. However, vegetarianism was considered the prominent symbol of the ascetic life. Many scholars and modern-day experts recognize that in order to fulfill the laws of the Torah, the vegetarian lifestyle is the ideal. Certain Jewish-Christian groups abstained from particular foods, including the Encratites, Ebionites, Marcionites, Manichaeans, and Priscillianists. Some of the members of such communities considered Jesus a vegetarian, while others claim that Saint Peter ate only bread, olives and herbs. However, there is solid evidence that James was a vegetarian. According to the early Christian historian Hegesippus of the second century, “James, the brother (technically a cousin) of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.” All of these groups lived in the same general area of Galilee, Nazareth, and the Dead Sea. They all practiced similar beliefs and ideals; they were neighbors but they were also friends. Jesus lived, ate, and taught with these early communities. In addition, almost all of his disciples and followers came from these groups, some of which were founded on a plant-based diet.

During the time of Jesus, there were three major Jewish groups: the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. The Essenes were forced to leave Jerusalem about 50 years before the time of Jesus because they did not believe in or practice animal sacrifice. Instead they offered fruits and vegetables as offerings to God. One of the earliest groups of the Essene community is identified as the community at Qumran. Writers, such as Philo, Pliny, Dio Chrysostom, Josephus, Hippolytus and Epiphanius, discuss the Essenes within their texts. The Jewish historian, Josephus, claims to have spent time with the Essenes at age 16 (c. 53-54 AD). Both historians Philo and Josephus agree that the total number of Essenes was over four thousand and that they lived in many cities in Palestine and in some villages and near the Dead Sea. Another early writer said there were around 10,000 Essenes. The Essenes were Orthodox Jews and thus kosher, and some were vegan. Because the kosher laws deal primarily with meat and milk, avoiding these two wouldn’t conflict with maintaining a strict kosher household. Although the Essenes refused to sacrifice animals in the temple, once a year they made offerings of fruits, vegetables and breads.

The Essenes were devoted to the law with a great reverence to Moses and a strict observance of the Sabbath.

Josephus notes that, “Many reached advanced ages over 100 years old.” This important passage illustrates the longevity of a meat- and dairy-free diet, showing that many people lived to over a hundred years old most likely because of their diets. The Hunza community has a similar lifestyle to the early Christian communities. Many of the Hunzans live well into their 90s and some live to be over one hundred years old. The Hunzans are about 97 percent vegetarian, yet they do eat some raw goat cheese and goats milk.

The Nazoreans (or Nazareans) were Christian Jews in first century Jewish Palestine. Jesus typically went by the name, Jesus the Nazorean. Now the Nazarenes are considered part of the Essenes. The name ‘Essenes’ was a larger group, an umbrella for many smaller groups and the Nazoreans being one of them. Jesus developed his ministry in the regions of the Nazarenes because he felt at home with the Pharisees and safe from the hassles. Great crowds followed Jesus as he preached in Galilee where the Nazarenes lived. This explains why his popularity grew rapidly with great multitudes. He chose his apostles from among the disciples in Galilee, many of whom could have been either Nazarenes or Essenes. They were primarily followers of a kosher diet.

The first two issues of the early Church were kosher diet and circumcision. Some of these early Christian communities, like the Encratites, were vegan and believed that Jesus was as well. The Essenes seemed to have disappeared a century or so after Jesus’ death and became followers of The Way. Christianity grew enormously during this same time period. Jesus spent only a week or two in Jerusalem and nearly all of his time in the greater Galilee area where the Essenes were located. Perhaps many of these converts to Christianity came from the Essenes, Therapeutae and the Nazarenes, who were all looking for the coming of the Messiah. Perhaps this is why the Essenes disappeared a century after Jesus’ death, because most of them became the first Christians. Therefore, we can conclude that most early Christian communities were vegetarian, that Jesus and the apostles were part of these communities and that these communities believed Jesus was a vegetarian.